Cultivated by Hand: Manuscript Books, Amateur Musicians, and the Performance of Taste

Date: 4 June 2019
Time: 6:00 p.m.
Location: Class of 1978 Pavilion, 6th Floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, University of Pennsylvania
Lecturer: Glenda Goodman - Assistant Professor of Music, University of Pennsylvania

This talk considers a corpus of manuscript music books copied by amateur musicians in order to investigate the intersection of taste, gender, and technologies of music reproduction in the eighteenth century. Women and men in the eighteenth-century United States had access to an unprecedented array of imported and domestically printed music, yet many amateur musicians chose to copy repertoire by hand into personal music books. The social flux found in the early United States put pressure on amateurs who wished to cultivate the appearance of good taste and gentility, particularly as concerns about the general provincialism of the new nation weighed heavily on white women and men. Their music books represented taste on multiple fronts: in the repertoire selected for inclusion, in the quality of penmanship and fineness of the book itself, and in the adroit performance from said book. At the same time, these books fed ideas about gender differences, for not only were the performances of hand-copied music afforded a site of gendering, but such strictures attached to penmanship as well, as the signs of embodied labor found in manuscript reproduction came to be elided with the so-called private sphere. Although difficult to categorize bibliographically, these hand-copied volumes of music encourage closer attention to the performative uses of books. As objects that facilitated multimodal performance, manuscript books demonstrate powerfully the interpenetration of sonic and visual dimensions of amateurs’ musical self-presentation. By exploring how amateurs used their music books to reflect their good taste, this talk opens up for further consideration the importance of aurality and performance in book history.